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Maddie's Fund

We spoke with Maddie's Fund president Rich Avanzino about the pet rescue foundation started by East Bay philanthropist Dave Duffield.


Courtesy of Maddie's Fund

On June 4 and 5, East Bay philanthropist Dave Duffield's Maddie's Fund will be doing a remarkable thing. For two days, this organization devoted to the safe adoption of animals throughout the U.S., will be picking up the costs of adopting an animal in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. During this second annual adoptathon, Maddie's Fund will cover the costs for anyone interested in adopting a pet from participating shelters: $500 for every cat or dog adopted from a shelter, and new this year, $1,000 for every senior or pet with a treatable medical condition, and $1,500 for every senior pet with a treatable medical condition. Organizers hope to meet or surpass last year's total of 2,000 pets that were adopted and saved from being put down. The total cost for this "economic stimulus package for shelter pets"? An estimated $2 million. Go to maddiesadoptathon.org for all the details.

It's a truly impressive financial commitment. We sat down with Maddie's Fund president Rich Avanzino to discuss the non-profit and its work improving the lives of pets and moving towards a "no kill" nation.

Diablo: Tell me a little about why Maddie's Fund was started.

Rich Avanzino: Maddies Fund at it origins, began with a little miniature schnauzer named Maddie. The tale goes that [Maddi's Fund founder Dave Duffield] was playing with her after a long day's work at PeopleSoft, a company that he had just started. And he was having such a good time, he was enjoying her and loved her so much that he and [Dave's wife Cheryl Duffield] made a promise to her that if they were to ever get any substantial means that they would give back to her and her kind, what Maddie gave to them in love. So they started this $300 million foundation, which is the largest dog and cat charity foundation in the world to basically help companion animals. And over the 11, 12-year history of Maddie's Fund we've donated more than $100 million to help create what we call a no kill nation: a country that helps guarantee that all of its sheltered dogs and cats have loving homes. And we expect to accomplish that by 2015. 

How are you going about accomplishing that goal?

We're a funding organization and we have three primary areas that we currently invest in. One is called community collaborations where all the animal welfare organizations in a community come together to create a plan that we then fund, and that guarantees funding over a ten year period so that all the dogs and cats in their jurisdiction will have a loving home. There are benchmarks that have to be achieved on a quarterly basis and as long as the results are accomplished, Maddie's Fund donates millions of dollars in support to make sure they can  do their good deeds and reach this adoption goal. We also invest in veterinary colleges to start what we call a a shelter medicine tract, to teach veterinary students what its like to work in an animal shelter and how they can best help the shelters save what we call, the treatables: the injured, the ill, and the poorly behaved. So, we'll have the medical expertise available to us to not only find homes for all the healthy pets, but also save those that have medical conditions and behavioral disorders that need to be rehabilitated. And then we also invest in something we call shelter and adoption guarantee accountability and transparency. We invest in getting data from all the organizations that are willing to provide it to us, so that we can publish the results by community on the life-saving work that they are doing. It's so that investigative reporters, boards of directors, elected official representatives, and the general public can see and compare what their community is doing in relation to the other communities around the U.S.

How have the results been so far?

We've come as a nation from killing 24 million dogs and cats per year in the '70s to now killing only 3 million dogs and cats. We think that if each agency—there's 12,000 groups that are involved in animal sheltering and adoptions—if each of them were to adopt less than one per day per organization, we would have a no-kill nation overnight, and we're well on our way to achieving that goal.

How important have the Duffields been in this effort?

Before their philanthropy, our efforts to achieve this kind of ambitious goals was unheard of, and its only through the generosity of Dave and Cheryl Duffield with their $300 million donation, which they say they intend to make larger, have we been able to achieve these results. There's a lot of good work being done out there by animal organizations and a good number of people that are donating. But philanthropy for dogs and cat charities is less than one percent of donations in the country today. So even though its near and dear to the hearts of many Americans, the economic support has a ways to go. The engagement of the Duffields in not only giving their own wealth, but also pioneering the effort of giving to animal causes is generating a groundswell of support that is basically providing resources to a lot of the groups to advance what they've wanted to do all this time.

Do you think that Dave's business acumen has helped Maddie's Fund achieve its goals?

Absolutely. What Dave talks about is that when he and his family were giving to animal causes, they were giving good money to good people for an important cause, and what he found was a great passion to help animals—but he didn't see a comparable business ability in these activists to actually achieve the results. So what he intended to do with the establishment of his family’s foundation was to provide resources to help build a business model that would more effectively utilize the meager resources available to accomplish a very ambitious goal. Maddie’s Fund considers itself a venture philanthropist adventure. Namely we give a lot of money, millions of dollars to each grantee over a period of time, to achieve quantifiable goals in a defined period of time. That is all based upon a business model of success, which Dave obviously has pioneered with the development of PeopleSoft and now WorkDay.

How has the recession affected adoption rates?

Well, on a national basis we're actually very encouraged by the results. The animal population throughout the country is actually going down in terms of what is being surrendered to shelters. There are certainly a lot of anecdotal stories about people losing their jobs and having to give up their pets, but what we've found statistically throughout the country is that with the hardship that goes along with the terrible economic times and this horrible recession, people are holding onto the things that are most dear and precious. And most times that is their companion animal, that is their family member on four legs, because while they have been ripped asunder by loss of jobs, defaulting on mortgages, being foreclosed on, the vast majority of animal lovers are holding on to their family pet. We're also finding, surprisingly, that there's an increase in adoptions during this horrible economic times, so the deficit is going down dramatically year after year, even in the light of the worst depression in the country's history.

That sort of speaks to the bond that exists between people and their animals.

Yes, absolutely. We as animal lovers have always recognized that. I think that as more and more people find that bond, experience that relationship, and fall in love, that it helps in the most difficult of times, as well as in the pleasure and happiness of more joyous times.

Tell us a little about the adoptathon.

This is the second one and the first one was successful beyond all of our imaginations. We told all our organizations that we hoped to spend a half million dollars and save 1,000 pets. We saved 1,800 dogs and cats and spent almost a million dollars. This year, we hope to at least double that. We're very excited about the buy-in from the groups, there's at least 45 different agencies that will be participating. We think we'll have about 80 different adoptions satellites throughout the two counties. And something new this year and exciting, the Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton will be our headquarters. We're starting to use the internet more effectively, for instance, we're creating a mobile website so that people who are looking for a pet and have a smart phone can use their GPS to find out where the closest shelter is located and get directions. We hope to expand that so that they can actually see the animals that are on display at those various adoptions sites. So we're using the technology that Dave and Cheryl have developed over their lifetime and that they're investing in in the future. This is what technology can do to help animal lives, to help the animal welfare movement and without Dave and Cheryl this wouldn't be happening.

 For more information and details on the adoptathon, go to maddiesadoptathon.org, and for mroe information on Maddie's Fund, go to maddiesfund.org.

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